Cheating (?) with Audiobooks

Saw a post by an editor at Digital Book World, “Audiobooks Make Me Feel Like I’m Cheating.” The premise of the post is that when we listen to books, we aren’t really “reading” — we’re cheating. His main argument is that when he listens to books, he’s always doing something else. When he’s reading a book, it’s the only thing he’s doing and his focus is just on the book.

Whoa. Seriously? I’m gonna just call it like I see it –  pretentious and elitist.

This guy is a word person. He learns through words. Fair enough, and I don’t discount this. For him, this may very be true.

HOWEVER – this is not true for everyone. There are many people – perhaps they have a form of a reading disability, or a audio learners, or are visual thinkers or have ADHD – who actually concentrate better on an audio book than a print book. Perhaps the letters jump around in a print book, perhaps their mind wanders when trying really hard to focus on text. Some people might be able to concentrate better when they are doing something like, like exercising, knitting, doing a puzzle, drawing. Just because the author doesn’t learn this way, doesn’t mean he can say that listening to audio books is cheating.

Audio books provide these learners – finally – with a mainstream way of reading — yes, reading. It’s no less valid. It’s not cheating. It’s reading.

The author argues that when he listens to audio books, he’s always doing something else: commuting, exercising, etc. I don’t know about you, but I see plenty of people reading books while commuting on public transportation or while on the treadmill at the gym. Does that mean they, too, are cheating? or are they really reading?

A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a digital game developer. This guy is amazingly intelligent, academic, creative, intense, and pushes boundaries in how to engage students in learning. He has a PhD. He is deeply immersed in the research around learning theory and game theory. During the middle of our discussion, he brought up a few books he’d recently read – all academic level books about his field. He talked about how he’d recently read them, and that they were all available on Audible.com. It was clear that he’d listened to them – and was surprised when someone else in the room said they had read the physical book. He just assumed that everyone would listen to the books. I’m guessing he listens to most of the many books he reads. I don’t think you could ever accuse him of “cheating” on his reading. I was so impressed and pleased to learn that he listens to books. I’m guessing he is one of those people who learns differently — but that does not  make him any less intelligent. In fact, it’s what allows him to push boundaries and think outside the traditional academic box and create new things. It’s impressive.

Listening to audio books is not not cheating. It’s reading.

 

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Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

Homework was a Cold War fad

I love Cold War history. It’s probably my favorite period of American history. Going to Los Alamos was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done – it’s a whacky place.

This article, How Sputnik Created Homework and Hurt American Kids, by Ryan Klein, just makes me love the Cold War even more.

…homework was a Cold War fad. Before then, Americans had always thought of homework as a bad idea because it distracted kids from families and chores. Many schools banned it altogether. But during the Cold War, Americans were desperate to get ahead, and a “we’ll try anything” mentality led to a new idea: Maybe homework does distract kids from good things, but if it makes them smarter—smart enough to beat the Russians—then we’re all for it!

 

Motivation

I have read a number of articles about student motivation. I may have blogged about them once or twice… This post, “5 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Unmotivated Students” is one of the first to admit it might be the design of the school that is contributing to lack of motivation. I love it!

There’s a very good chance that the technology, the parents, or the entitlement are playing a role in what we perceive to be reduced student motivation. But there’s a very good chance that our instructional decisions play a role as well.

The author outlines a  number of questions to ask (I have paraphrased):

  1. Relationship: what is the teacher’s relationship to the student?
  2. How much choice do students have in their work?
  3. Do you reward with candy?
  4. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?
  5. How do you make the content relevant to the student?

This is a wonderful set of questions. The author admits things she’s done wrong in the past, but isn’t accusatory about teachers. Just really pushes her fellow teachers to think about their approach.

I watched a highly motivated student turn into one that probably looks like one that couldn’t care less. But guess what – she does care. She cares deeply. But, over the years, she learned that it didn’t matter how much work she did. Traditional school/testing is not how she thinks. She shut down. But, she still cares. A few teachers were able to get good stuff from her — and those were the ones who made things relevant, had an honest and caring relationship, gave students choice.

I bet even the most unmotivated student cares….

Treatise on Audio Books

One of my all time favorite bloggers, Pernille Ripp, wrote about audio books, a pet topic for me: “Why Audio Books in the Classroom?” (Read this, but read all of her blog. It’s wonderful.)

I cannot believe I haven’t written about audio books before. They have been a huge part of my family’s life for the last 10 years, and is what started me on the path to working in education technology.

boxcarIt all started on a car trip. The kids were little (probably 8 & 5 years old) and antsy. We stopped at a bookstore. I spotted a CD of The Boxcar Children. Aha! Perfect for a car trip. The kids were hooked, and our adventure with audio books began.

My daughter has never liked to read – with her eyes. She was not a natural reader, she has never liked to read. It has always been a struggle. However – as Ms Ripp describes her student doing, my daughter INHALED audio books. We couldn’t keep up – it involved many trips to the library and finding affordable books on CD (and yes, even on cassette!) The arrival of the iPod and downloadable audio books was a game changer.

Yet, we still struggled to get school to accept audio books as books. My daughter’s 4th grade teacher flat out told us they didn’t count. Well, I flat out lied about it on those stupid reading logs we were supposed to do. (This teacher wouldn’t let kids read graphic novels either, but that’s another post.)

Thank goodness for the 5th grade teacher who not only accepted, but encouraged the audio books! Turns out her daughter is legally blind and consumes audio books at an amazing rate. At that point, the audio books were written into the 504, and although we have had to keep fighting for acceptance, we had documentation in our court. My daughter now gets all her college books in an audio version and it’s not an issue.

I get why people struggled to accept audio books as legitimate, but it’s time to change. The skills of listening to a text are just as necessary as reading with your eyes. Just as the world is moving quickly to more visual literacy (meaning learning to “read” images, data visualizations, etc.,) we also need to teach audio skills. We get information in so many ways now that we cannot limit it to reading with our eyes.

It is always expected that my daughter has a print book in front of her while she listens. She can’t do that. She needs to have her fingers busy. While listening, she often does a puzzle, knits or plays sudoku. It’s how she listens deeply. We’ve learned that this is how she learns best — not the way school thinks she should learn. I think the visual decoding is really difficult and distracting for her.

Sometimes, my son does listen to a book with the print book in front of him, if he’s doing heavy reading for school. He takes notes, marks the text. It’s how he learns. For him, using both audio and visual works.

One of my recent work projects  was producing a digital curriculum. We fought hard to have all the text narrated by professional actors. And guess what — it is probably the biggest selling point of the digital product. When we did early testing, I had the opportunity to test it with all levels of readers. Even the “high” readers – those reading far above grade level – loved the audio. It isn’t just for “special ed” (I HATE that term) or kids with LDs.

Give them a shot — while I love reading the Harry Potter series, I also love listening to Jim Dale read it to me. And how about celebrity bios? Nothing funnier than listening to Ellen DeGeneris reading you her book, or nothing more enjoyable than listening to Rob Lowe read his. Seriously. Try it.

 

SRA – Individualized Reading

Nostaglic post from Audrey Waters about the SRA Reading Cards of my childhood.

First, Audrey Waters is awesome. She is even far more snarky than I am, and for that, I love reading her stuff.

Second, this post traumatized me! But, caused me to think.

Waters talks about the SRA program through the concept of personalized learning. She brings up B. F. Skinner’s “programmed learning” concept. Yup, that’s definitely what it was/is (I guess it’s still around).  I totally see her point here: kids were often “rewarded” when they finished other work by getting to go to “THE BOX.” You read, answered questions, and checked it off, “DONE!” Then, on to the next one. Step by step.  There’s no creativity, no freedom of choice. I can’t remember the questions about the reading, but I’m sure it was basic, low-level reading comprehension.

She points out it’s often strong readers who loved this program, not the kids who struggled and were always reading the orange (or blue or green – whatever colors were the easier cards.) I can see that, too.

Box of SRA reading materials, ca. 1973. Image from an ebay posting.

Box of SRA reading materials, ca. 1973. Image from an ebay posting.

I see all this, and will look at SRA in a new light. Yet, I loved the SRA Reading program when I was a kid. LOVED. I mean it made me very happy to get to do SRA reading. Why? Because, for me, it was personalized. I got to go at my own pace. It was torture for me to sit through reading classes in the early grades. I had been reading on my own since I was three. Reading with a class caused me tremendous anxiety and frustration. I just wanted to READ. Not hear other kids learn how to read!  With SRA, I could read as fast and as far ahead as I wanted, instead of getting told to stop reading ahead. Admittedly, this was something I could do very well and it got me strong positive feedback. So, why wouldn’t I love it?

I see her point, and look at the website, see that they now have a digital version! One potential positive with the digital – maybe – would be that kids who weren’t enthusiastic readers wouldn’t have to show everyone what color they have. It’s possible. And, the kids who liked to read far ahead, they can do that, too, without being teased. (This never happened to me, but it did to my son. It is just as traumatic as seeing you’re behind.)

Thanks, Audrey, for that trip down memory lane!

Communication vs. Writing

This blog is a great place to story some of my other writing. Here is another response I wrote for the MOOC, “The Art of Teaching History.” The prompt in this case was, “What are the obstacles to teaching writing?”

Communication isn’t just writing

The prompt this week is about obstacles to helping students become better writers. I certainly support helping our students become better writers, but I feel there is a gaping hole in the conversation in the videos. Our old definition of writing is the obstacle. We must think about communication, not just writing.

The videos solely address formal, academic writing. Journals, when assigned, are still an academic writing exercise. As a few threads here have addressed, the world has shifted, and students are exposed to many different types of communication media: Twitter, blogs, videos, Tumblrs, Instagram, etc. The list is endless and ever changing.

I am glad to see a few threads here addressing the issue I see. Some of the threads here are disturbing, because the blame for students not being able to write is being placed on our students and their use of technology/digital information. That is simply not fair to our students, and shows a lack of being able to think forward. We cannot continue to live in the past and expect students to perform in school the way we, as adults, were taught. We — the adults — need to also learn from where the world is going.

I am not saying students shouldn’t learn to analyze and evaluate. They need to learn to communicate their thoughts and knowledge, including this analysis and evaluation. It is our expectations of how they communicate this that must change. Is the standard 5 paragraph essay still necessary? What about a 90 second video? A powerpoint/prezi or some other presentation? It takes more skills to communicate visually. They must still get their ideas out in an orderly manner. They must make a thesis and support these ideas. Using visuals, doing a presentation, or some other mode of communication is JUST as valuable — and perhaps in our increasingly visual world — MORE important than just being able to write.

Teaching other modes of communication also allow us to differentiate the classroom, and perhaps allow students to shine in different ways. We cannot limit our world to text. Students with certain learning disabilities or those who are creative/artisitic may show you a different side of themselves when presented with the opportunity to use other modes of communication. Students who are well versed in writing are done a disservice if they are not encouraged to explore other modes of communication.

Writing is merely the beginning. By limiting ourselves in teaching history to this mode of communication, we limit our students.